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BC remains worst in Canada for child poverty

The organization First Call is drawing attention to figures released today that they say show British Columbia has the worst child poverty rate in Canada for the eighth year in a row.

According to Statistics Canada data on incomes the province’s child poverty rate rose to 12 per cent in 2009, coming in higher than all other provincial and territorial rates as well as the national average of 9.5 per cent.

B.C.’s overall poverty rate also rose to 12 per cent and was the highest among the provinces for the eleventh year in row. The number of poor people living in B.C. rose from 494,000 in 2008 to 528,000 in 2009. Of the 2009 stats, 100,000 were children.

Adrienne Montani, First Call’s provincial coordinator for B.C. says “low wages and inadequate work” are to blame for B.C.’s poverty record. First Call is a non-partisan coalition of B.C. organizations and individuals that works to promote children’s rights and improve the well-being of BC’s children and youth.

But it’s a complex issue and there are a lot of factors to consider, she said. “Having things like child care be astronomically expensive means sometimes that . . . a second earner can’t go to work,” she said. “It seems a lot of families, in order to afford what they need to afford, have to have two earners.”

One quick fix would be for the federal government to increase the child tax benefit to at least $5,400 a year per child, she said. Currently the maximum benefit available for families with incomes below $24,183 is $3,485 per year for the first child, for subsequent children the benefit is slightly lower.

Another area that could be improved is post-secondary education, said Montani. “We aren’t supporting young people to be able to get good paying jobs in the workforce because they’re not able to afford post-secondary education."

B.C. needs an anti-poverty plan, she said. “We’d love to see a non-partisan effort on this because it is a long standing issue," she said. "For the last decade we’ve been the worst in the country . . . It’s time for a cross government plan that says we’re going to tackle this and we’re going to bring it down.”

The New Democratic Party has proposed adopting such a plan. “Seven other provinces in the country of all political stripes have put strategies and clear plans in place, British Columbia has not done that, we’re falling way behind,” said housing and social development critic Shane Simpson.

On June 2, the NDP introduced Bill M216, or the Poverty Reduction Act, as a private member’s bill. If passed, the act would be developed after broad consultation and annual progress reports would submitted to the legislature, Simpson said. “We need a real plan, with real teeth, that’s comprehensive, to deal with an issue that’s this complex."

A spokesperson for the ministry of children and family development, Shae Greenfield said in an email the numbers from Statistics Canada reflect the difficult time British Columbia endured during the economic downturn. He also said some recent actions taken by the government to help low-income families weren’t reflected in the 2009 stats, including the increase in minimum wage.

But Montani said even though the data stem from the middle of the downturn, the problems are real.

“We know those are 2009 data and we expected them to get worse because that was the heart of the recession but if you look back over the last several decades this has been a consistent problem, we’ve never gotten below 10 per cent in B.C. for our child poverty rate so there really needs some concerted, focused effort,” she said.

A poverty reduction strategy seems unlikely to come from the government anytime soon, however.

“Putting a label on it doesn’t guarantee success,” said ministry spokesperson Greenfield. “Actions are what make a real difference for families and our efforts to strengthen the economy and create jobs while providing targeted supports to low income families are working.”

Ainslie Cruickshank is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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